Grading Every Key Indiana Pacers Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
With the All-Star break upon us, the Indiana Pacers head into it as the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, so let’s take a look at how their key players have performed thus far.
Indiana lost two of its last three games before the break, one coming in a one-point loss against the Orlando Magic and the other against the Dallas Mavericks, a game where the Pacers scored just 73 points.
Still, Indy is enjoying their best season since the Jermaine O’Neal era and stands as one of the few legitimate title contenders in the NBA.
The Pacers earned their 40-12 record mainly by playing smothering defense (No. 1 in opponent points per game), but Paul George has burst onto the scene and quickly become one of the league’s best players, further helping Indiana’s title run.
Lance Stephenson’s emergence has been huge as well, as he’s developed his offense while maintaining his ferocity on the defensive end.
Grades will be handed out based on overall performance up to this point, although recent games will play a big role. I’ll start with the second unit and work up to the starters.
How has the Pacers roster performed heading into the All-Star break?
Note: All stats gathered from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Danny Granger's return has essentially taken any minutes away from the bottom-of-the-rotation guys, but Butler has been the one player seeing spot minutes over the past few games.
Butler could actually be a big help to the Pacers given his ability to shoot from deep. He may only have 27 three-point attempts this year, but he's knocked down over half of his threes.
He's appeared in only four of the Pacers' last seven games and knocked down six of his nine shots while connecting on all three of his shots from behind the arc.
There may not be a spot in the rotation for the 11-year vet, but if Granger catches the injury bug again, Butler could be a decent option to play in his place.
Ian Mahinmi doesn’t get a lot of minutes, but he gives the Pacers quality production while spelling Roy Hibbert.
Mahinmi serves as a solid rim protector, holding opposing teams to 45 percent shooting on shots near the rim, per NBA.com. He’s also third on the team with 46 blocks.
Unlike the rest of Indiana’s second unit, Mahinmi has actually seen improvement this month, averaging 3.7 points per game, although his efficiency hasn’t been the greatest. So far this season, Mahinmi has shot 42 percent from the floor.
The Frenchman is no Roy Hibbert, but he does a great job protecting the rim, something the Pacers need from every one of their bigs.
Coming off his best scoring month in January, C.J. Watson has fallen victim to the Pacers’ second-unit woes.
Over his last seven games, Watson is averaging 5.6 points on 33 percent shooting. Even worse, his three-point shot has taken a drastic hit as he’s made just 21 percent of his deep attempts this month.
The former Chicago Bull has never been a great playmaker—he has a career average of 2.4 assists—but he has excelled as a spot-up shooter, shooting 38 percent from downtown in his seven-year career.
With the break right around the corner, Watson could get his shooting stroke back with some rest and some visits to the gym, hopefully giving Indiana a three-point threat going forward.
The Pacers second unit has been struggling over the last month of play, and Scola is at the forefront.
In January, Scola averaged 6.9 points per game—a two-point drop from the previous month—on 38 percent shooting. It wasn’t because of fewer minutes or touches either, as both his playing time and usage rate remained fairly constant.
His struggles have carried over into February, where he’s averaging a season-low 5.7 points per game and shooting just 33 percent. He has seen a slight decrease in minutes, but not to the point that his scoring should decrease that much.
Scola’s recent performance has led to an atrocious offensive rating of 79 for the month of February.
The All-Star break might be coming at the perfect time for the Argentine, as he’ll definitely be looking to bounce back from a string of poor performances after some time off.
Danny Granger is improving as the season moves along, seeing small upticks in minutes and increases in overall production.
Throughout January, Granger averaged 8.5 points per game, but his shooting was very inconsistent, shooting under 40 percent from the floor and 31 percent from downtown.
Over the last seven games, though, the former All-Star has found his range from behind the arc, shooting 36 percent while averaging 9.4 points.
Granger’s offense might not be as consistent as it once was, but he’s starting to get into a nice rhythm, and he’s the one bench player who isn’t struggling as bad at the moment.
He's also managed to stay healthy, which is always a plus for him.
George Hill’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he does a good job managing games and plays very solid defense.
According to Synergy Sports, Hill holds opposing players to 40 percent shooting, but it’s his pick-and-roll defense where he excels, an area of weakness among many point guards. On pick-and-roll sets, Hill allows 0.82 points per play and holds players to 42 percent shooting.
Hill has also been on a streak offensively as of late.
Over the last seven games, the sixth-year point guard has averaged nearly 13 points per game, including a 37-point outburst against the Portland Trail Blazers where he flirted with a triple-double. He’s also hit double digits in four consecutive games, his second-longest streak this season.
There's no denying Hill is limited offensively, but he knows how to control the pace of the game and plays defense. As long as he continues to do that, the Pacers should be happy.
Lance Stephenson has become a jack-of-all-trades for the Pacers and someone who could be a deciding factor come playoff time.
The fourth-year guard has given Indiana top-notch production on both ends of the floor, averaging 14 points on 50 percent shooting, seven rebounds and five assists per game. He also leads the NBA with four triple-doubles, per ESPN.
Defensively, Stephenson is having his great month so far, posting a defensive rating of 92—his best mark for any month—over the last six games. Stephenson has the length and quickness to guard multiple positions, and he’s excelled at it, as he’s held opposing players to 37 percent shooting, per Synergy Sports.
Stephenson does come with some inconsistencies, though, mainly on the offensive end. If he’s struggling to score, he’ll often try to shoot himself out of the slump. However, he still finds ways to contribute in other aspects of the offense, whether it’s getting to the line or creating for others.
The Pacers need Stephenson to keep up this level of play as they near the end of the regular season and embark on what could be a run to the NBA Finals.
Many of the early and mid-90s teams had enforcers, and that’s one aspect David West brings to this team. There's a reason TNT analyst Charles Barkley has him on "the list".
His physical presence on both sides of the ball make him one of the better power forwards in the NBA, and he’s been on a tear as of late.
Over his last seven games, West is averaging 18 points per game on 60 percent shooting, both team-high figures throughout the month of February. His offensive rating has skyrocketed from a season average of 107 to 122 for this month.
West continue to be a legitimate scoring option, whether it's in the the post, mid-range or in the pick-and-roll. There's no reason to believe West can't continue this hot streak after the break.
Hibbert has had some major struggles over the past month, seeing his field-goal percentage drop to 42 percent in January, an abysmal figure for a big man.
The 7'2" center's rebounding numbers have also been relatively sub-par, as he's averaging just 7.7 per game this season. Hibbert grabs a rebound on just 52 percent of his rebounding chances, the third-lowest rate on the team, per NBA.com.
Where he makes up for it, though, is his outstanding defense and rim protection.
Hibbert is tied for third in blocks (129) with DeAndre Jordan, and he holds opponents to just 41.3 percent on shots near the rim, per NBA.com, a figure many of league’s premier shot-blockers don’t come very close to.
The 27-year-old’s offensive woes bring his grade down some, but his impact on the defensive end remains unmatched by anybody in the league.
After a scorching-hot start to the season, Paul George has seen his numbers go down little by little, but it doesn’t mean his career year is over. Nor does it mean he’s not the best player on arguably the best team in the league heading into the break.
George’s scoring has dipped over the past few weeks, and his poor shooting has been the biggest reason for that.
Throughout January, George shot 41 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three-point land a drop of nearly six and eight percentage points, respectively, from his December numbers.
In the Pacers’ last seven games, George’s shooting slump has worsened; his field-goal percentage dropped to 35 percent, although his three-point shooting has improved to meet that same mark. He is, however, averaging four less points than he did in January and has posted an offensive rating of 92.
The young star remains one of the league’s top two-way players, though.
Despite his recent struggles offensively, he continues to excel defensively. He’s currently second in the NBA in defensive rating (Roy Hibbert is No. 1) and allows just 0.74 points per play, per Synergy Sports.
George will make his first All-Star start this season, and perhaps he can carry some momentum over from a weekend of celebration and high energy.
If he can start the second half of the year with a streak of big-time performances, Indy could be looking at home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.